How to Keep Writing When You Feel Completely Burnt Out

I’m exhausted. My brain is fried. But the thought of not writing doesn’t work for me.

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I spent the last four months reediting, partially rewriting, and reformatting a series of mine. I got my rights back last year, and there were things in each of the books that I wanted to fix. I knew it would be crazy to do it all at once, but I wanted them rereleased all together.

I wouldn’t wish that headache on anyone.

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Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not. I got to revisit a world that I loved putting together. I gave each of the characters a little more life, more emotion, and a better reason to be doing what they’re doing. And I fell in love with the main guy just a little more than I had been before.

Two of the three main books are now released. Book three will hopefully be done in the next week. Just My Luck, which is a novella, has been released for the first time. This book is the story of Megan’s brother, Adam, and his run-in with Louie the leprechaun.

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So, now I stare at my computer, wondering what I should be doing next. I have six books waiting to be written in various worlds. After pushing myself for the the last few months to get this done, my brain has a hard time thinking it can relax and just . . . write.

Writing can be hard.  You’re putting a piece of your being on paper. Your very soul. So how do you do that when all you want to do is curl up in a ball? Start small.

When I was young, I would sit at a computer, pick out a name and an animal, and just start writing. It worked great, and the stories just flowed.

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Recently, I joined a group where each Wednesday we write one hundred word stories. Some prompts are difficult. Others are very easy. I have come up with a few new book ideas from those prompts.

My first luck book, Stolen Luck, actually came from a simple writing exercise. The prompt was “Your worst day ever.” I immediately wondered what it would be like if someone had never had a worst day. If everything always went right. So I started writing, and suddenly a leprechaun appeared and offered Megan all the luck she could ever want—for a price. It was unexpected, but it also ended up becoming three books and a novella. I’m currently writing a fourth book as well.

My biggest advice for those who are burnt out is, don’t give up. Take a break for a bit. Go read, do other hobbies you’ve put on the back burner, watch a movie—but come back and try again.

As I said before, start small. There’s a great link here where you can get random first lines. See where that first line can take you.

Catch up on your blog posts or journal. Loosen your mind to allow it to think.

Stories will hit you when you’re most relaxed. I have found myself scrambling for a piece of paper or my notepad on my phone at church, because a story idea struck while I was singing a hymn.

So what do you do to relax and get back to writing?

It’s all in the Details

Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip across our state to see a friend get married. To break up a 7 hour drive, we stayed overnight in a little town where I’d found a good deal online.

It was a motel dating back to the 60s, recently renovated retro-chic to evoke a warm nostalgic feeling for a bygone era. But what impressed me the most were all the little conveniences the owner made available for the comfort of guests. The heater was turned on when we arrived, there were extra toiletries with fresh herbal scents, plush bathrobes usually only found in swanky hotels, and several retro bikes with baskets and big tires that guests could borrow to ride around town in style.  I certainly felt pampered, and I will recommend the place to friends and family.

The owner of the motel didn’t achieve this pampered effect with silk sheets or huge hotel rooms or ten thousand channels of cable TV (when you still can’t find anything good to watch). It was the attention to little plush details that delighted me and made me feel like an honored guest.

There are many times, in my busy modern life, when I fail to notice the little details around me. I’m so focused on getting through my “to do” list, rushing here there and everywhere, that I miss out on opportunities to observe small but important aspects of my surroundings. When I take the time to slow down and pay attention, not only is my spirit renewed with the delight I find in the world, but my creativity is boosted and my writing enriched.

In college, I wrote a short story for a friend of mine who was a pure-bred Wyoming Cowboy. I’m a city girl myself, and I’m sure he thought I didn’t know the first thing about riding the range. But I knew just enough. When he read the story, he was flabbergasted that I had mentioned a saddle creaking when the main character stepped up onto a horse and settled in. It brought the whole story to life for my friend, and made me look like I knew what I was talking about, after all. (Even though I really didn’t ;-) )

It’s this mention of small but important details in a narrative that ring true for the reader and bring the story to life. But gathering sensory details isn’t something a writer can do while sitting in a single room, day in and day out. It requires getting out into the open air, smelling the world around you, seeing it, tasting it for yourself. How else will you know how to describe the smell of fall if you don’t stroll around the neighborhood and catch a whiff of rotting leaves the neighbors are raking up? Or what it feels like when the sun dries the pool water off your skin on a hot summer day? These descriptions come from experience and taking the time to pay attention. And it does take time. We can’t all be like Sherlock or that guy on Psych.

That’s why I like to encourage kids to be lazy once in awhile. I fondly remember afternoons from my childhood doing nothing more constructive than watching clouds and deciphering their shapes. To this day, one of my favorite activities is to watch the stars at night.

Recently, while teaching a unit on poetry, I took a class of fifth graders outside to lie on the grass and choose a cloud to write a poem about. They came up with some wonderfully creative poems! Later, I pointed out to the kids that if they wanted to boost their creativity, it was a good idea to gaze at the sky every so often. It was like a revelation to them.

One of my favorite songs comes from the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen. He sings about an inchworm while the children are in school reciting their math facts: “Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far. Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. Did you ever stop and think, how beautiful they are?”

When was the last time you noticed the marigolds?

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Shauna E. Black lives in the high desert of the southwest with her husband and four children. She is the author of Fury of the Storm Wizard, a middle grade novel about wizards in cowboy boots. She likes to bake bread, collect wind chimes, and lie on the trampoline at night to watch the stars.

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READING TO KIDS

How often do you have an opportunity to read to a child, or with a tween? Once a month? Every night? Personally, if I don’t have that one-on-one time often, I feel cheated.

There is so much to enjoy when reading with a young person. Aside from the fun or adventure of a new story, there is the closeness afforded in the sharing of your time. And, if it’s a bedtime story you’re sharing, there may also be lots of giggles and cuddles. Reading with a child is therapeutic to both the reader and the listener.

I’ve been reading to children for over forty years. When I was still a teenager, my parents fostered children for the state of Missouri. They fostered children under the age of two years, and my mother often asked me to read to the little ones. At the time, I felt it was almost a form of punishment to be forced to read picture books. But I soon found that I loved the rhythm and cadence of the words, and saw how they could soothe a fussy little one who had been separated from home and family. I had no idea back then of the impact reading to such young children could make. I did realize that they enjoyed looking at the pictures and hearing the sound of my voice. I’m still not sure who benefited more from the experience, but it didn’t take long for me to get over feeling that it was a chore.

Later, when I had two girls of my own and my husband and I had fostered kids of all ages, we became house parents to teenage girls at a children’s home. It interested me to note which girls enjoyed reading, and what their reading preferences were. It led me to believe there was a correlation between the time the girls had been read to from a young age, and to their reading enjoyment as they grew. It seemed to me that the girls who had come from more stable homes had a higher propensity for reading for pleasure than did the girls whose homes had been more unstable. That may be faulty reasoning on my part, however, because I have always loved reading and my sister rarely picks up a book, and we grew up in the same household.

But I firmly believe that books should be a daily part of a child’s life. It’s hard to beat the nightly ritual of a bedtime story. A quiet book often is the best choice, because it allows the child to relax as they listen to the sound of your quiet reading. Once in a while, however, we like to mix it up and find something lively or just a wee bit frightening to add a bit more fun. I usually reserve these choices for Friday night, although I’ve heard much hilarity going on when Grandpa stands in for me from time to time.

It isn’t just the little ones who benefit from being read to, however. I still read to my son, although he is beginning to think he’s grown too old for that. I tell him he may be outgrowing it, but I still need that time for just the two of us. Sometimes the entire family piles onto our bed and I read to the bunch of them. Those times are the best.

I hope if you aren’t reading aloud to someone on a regular basis, that my post will help you think about doing so. If you have no children of your own, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer your time and talent at a local school or library. I’ve even been known to read aloud on bus trips. It’s surprising how many people will take the time to listen to a picture book if given the opportunity!

HAPPY READING!

Cordelia Dinsmore

 

 

QR Codes

candle star QRTheCandleStar bookmarkI usually direct my posts to teachers and parents, but today I have a little trick especially for authors that fellow Emblazoner Lois Brown shared with me some time ago. I’ve made good use of it.

We all know the value of creating bookmarks and business cards. A powerful image, a microblurb, an author name, and a website. Those pretty little slips of paper are an effective and inexpensive way to tease would-be readers into checking out our books. And they’re inoffensive. People actually like getting them.

Adding a QR code makes these already great tools even better. You’ve seen them. Theyr’e the funky little black and white blocks that can be scanned by phones and tablets to access a website directly. I slapped one on the back of my business card and it takes viewers directly to my website. The ones on the back of my bookmarks take readers directly to that book’s listing on Amazon. I’ve even thought about putting one in the back pages of my paperbacks, just haven’t done it yet.

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business card backSo how do you do it? Super easy! There are many QR generator sites on the web. My favorite is a generic looking, simple-to-use site called “QR Code Generator“. (Clever, eh?) All you do is type the full URL for your landing page into the text box provided (for example, http://www.emblazoners.com), and a QR code will automatically be generated. Click download and you’ve got an image you can add to anything you want. Make sure you label it and save it where you can find it again. The QR Code Generator website will not save it for later retrieval.

So now you have a new weapon in your marketing arsenal. Can you think of any other creative ways to wield it?

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blog photoMichelle Isenhoff‘s life is a balance between responsibilities and children’s literature. She’s usually irresponsible.

 

 

 

The Inspiring Parents of Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman Jr.

SeattleI live in Texas, so you will understand when I say I do not follow the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve never been to Washington State. In fact, the closest I’ve come to anything related to Seattle is watching umpteen “Fraiser” episodes.

So it may surprise you when I say I’ve fallen in love with the parents of fullback Derrick Coleman, but it’s true.

You may recall a moving Duracell commercial that aired a year ago when Seattle was preparing for last year’s Super Bowl. It featured the first-ever, legally deaf NFL player, Derrick Coleman Jr. and advocated trusting the power within to overcome obstacles. As I dried my tears, my curiosity sparked. This success required support and powerful narratives. I had to know more about his parents.

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Photo courtesy of handsandvoices.org

Derrick Coleman Sr. is a writer and a quieter soul. May Hamlin, Derrick Jr.’s mom, is more vocal, calling herself “very opinionated.” I found her to be warm, articulate and a passionate advocate.

When they received the diagnosis of Derrick’s deafness at age three, May admits, “I was heartbroken.” Derrick Sr. said, “We went through thoughts, ‘How do we deal with this? What kind of life will he have?’ Our heads were spinning.”1 Pushing aside their grief, they tapped into their courage and set out to help their son. May went to work on Derrick’s lagging verbal skills by engaging him in lots of conversation. They resolved that, despite his challenge, not to treat Derrick differently. And they adopted a “no excuses” policy where hearing could never be made the culprit.

Life in elementary school added more heart-wrenching challenges for the couple. May shared that some of the toughest moments were watching Derrick walk with his head down because no one wanted to play with him or eat with him because of his hearing aids.3 She added, “You try to be calm and hold it together for your child, but inside its tearing you up. But you don’t want to show that…You want to tell them it’s gonna be okay. You can get through this.”5 May equipped her son with a powerful response: Derrick remembers, “My mom always said people who make fun of you and try to bring you down…They’re trying to bring you down to their level.”4

FootballIn the midst of these trials, Derrick took a liking to football and wanted to try out for his local Pop Warner team. Afraid he might further damage his hearing, Derrick Sr. did not immediately agree, but Derrick Jr persisted until his dad finally gave in. May knew if her son was going to succeed, she would need to “put my all into it.”

And she did, innovating ways to keep his hearing aids in and more.

And what happened? At first seeing Derrick play, his father recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow this kid can play football’. I would be running up and down the field right alongside with him…and started to feel…‘Hey, he has something.” 2 Yet critics filled the bleachers. May revealed, “I couldn’t sit around people in fear that they would say something negative about his hearing. [Derrick] knew exactly where I sat, all the way at the top, all alone by myself.”2

Derrick excelled at UCLA and hoped to be drafted in 2012. But coaches could not see past his hearing challenges. “It still hurts, as a mom.” But things changed when the Seahawks gave him a chance in 2013 and he went on to help them win the Super Bowl.

May and Derrick Sr. set out to help their child realize his dream—it’s what parents do. What they did not anticipate is the legacy they have created: Derrick’s story has inspired hundreds of physically and mentally challenged children to dream. Looking at the hope in the eyes of these kids and hearing the narratives they have borrowed from Derrick to combat bullies and spur themselves on with No Excuses, nearly brings me to tears. It’s beautiful.

I doubt I will ever have the privilege of meeting Derrick or May, but if I ever do, I would ask them where they learned their narratives, for like those that I weave throughout my books, they are empowering, but rare, and don’t just pop out of thin air.

(Post originally published on L. R. W. Lee’s blog at bit.ly/1uSZfvD)

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Linda3L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson fantasy, adventure series of which three of the seven total books have been released to date. Book four in the series, Resurrection of the Phoenix’s Grace, is expected in Spring 2015.

She writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. L. R. W. Lee lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband, daughter and son.

Connect with L. R. W. at: Twitter   Website   Facebook

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Sources:

View the Duracell commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzQFA2hxyRQ

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/17/sports/sp-coleman17
http://abled.com/2014/01/18/abledpeople-derrick-coleman-the-seattle-seahawks-fullback-who-s-inspiring-a-generation-of-deaf-fans/
http://www.adayinmotherhood.com/derrick-coleman/
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/deaf-nfl-player-derrick-coleman-inspires-on-and-off-the-field/
http://www.examiner.com/article/interview-derrick-coleman-s-mom-may-hamlin-on-parenting-bullying-power-within

What in the World are Videogames Doing to Our Readers?

I know what you are thinking. ‘Here comes another anti-videogame message.’ We’ve been hearing it for years. Videogames are damaging our children. They are the reason for all of the corruption. Children have lost their desire for creativity and imagination. Kids are more prone to excessive violence and they now all have ADHD. Videogames are the reason that America is in the sorry state it is in…blah yada blah.

Well if that is where you are thinking this post is going, you are WRONG! If you think that access to videogames is destroying a child’s creativity, I dare you to spend twenty minutes watching an eight or nine-year-old kid play Minecraft. It will BLOW. YOUR. MIND! Seriously, as the father of nine-year-old twins, the volcano-moated fortresses that my children build in that game are amazing! Honestly, they put my old Lego and Lincoln Log creations to shame…but I digress.

Videogames have come a long way from the old Mario and Marble Madness days of the original Nintendo. Games now demand a sense of realism. Game developers have progressed in their ability to immerse a gamer into a story. Don’t believe me? Go and play Last of Us, Mass Effect, Skyward Sword, Skyrim or any of the Uncharted games. Heck, go play Pokemon (although I ABSOLUTELY do not want to hear about what stupid Pokemon you capture, what their weaknesses are, and who they evolve into). The advances in gaming have been seriously amazing and there is no reason to believe that it will be tapering off any time soon.

So…what does this mean for us as writers, especially those of us that shoot for the midgrade audience? Have we lost our target audience forever? Are they drowned in a sea of visual stimulation and mindless button mashing? I say NO! In fact, I shout it from the rooftops!

Why you might ask? What possible reason can this thirty-something aged Clydesdale (that is a triathlon reference for those of you who might be wondering) have for such a response? To answer your unspoken question, I must take you all back with me to my youth and the glory days of the old Nintendo. Remember those fascinating times? Blowing into the cartridges until you were light-headed? Stuffing one game on top of another in the console with the hope that you could find that sweet spot and the screen would stop flashing and the game would fire up? Rage quitting a game by slamming your controller to the floor after reaching the end boss only to die for the last time and be forced to start over?

In those days there were no studies about the effects of prolonged videogame exposure (well, I’m sure there were, but due to a lack of social media, most parents were blissfully unaware of them). The adults in those days discovered one simple thing. Nintendos were built in babysitters! Videogames kept their destructive, attention-craved, overly energetic little boys from leaving Legos all over the floor, coloring on the walls, and beating the stuffing out of any sibling within reach…for hours at a time! It was a wonderful age for both parent and male child (I know there are many female gamers, but lets face it, those early Nintendo games were made for us guys). However, for all of those boy children that grew up on videogames…there were girl children. Girl children that watched as their brothers’ eyes became glued to TV screens and dismissed everything around them. In many cases, those poor siblings became the replacement babysitters and job-doers. They were the children that got things done while their brothers wasted hour after hour in front of the tube, controller in hand, every bit as plugged in as the inanimate console they played.

Well, guess what? Now those sisters are Moms! And you know what else? They don’t want their own kids to follow down the same path as those brothers of old…and they have a strategy. Oh yes, those wily mothers have plotted together and they have come up with ways to keep their children from becoming too entrenched in gaming. Now they even conspire through social media to keep videogames from rotting out the brains of their precious darlings. Pinterest boards and Facebook groups have ended the limitless gaming that the boys of my generation took for granted. Now kids have to work for those precious nuggets of game time. They do jobs, they play outside, they do art projects, they do homework…and they read!!!

Yes, mothers are a bigger advocate for reading than ever before. But…we must accept the fact that videogames have altered the minds of our readers. Kids now have experienced a realism through story telling that didn’t exist before. So, as authors competing for their limited time and attention, we must up our game as well. Now, I am a huge fan of fantasy, and I have often wondered what I could do to hold a child’s interest for prolonged periods of time. What can I do to keep a child reading, even when the sirens call of a videogame beckons?

For me, I have found that the solution lies in the minor details. Often, when a child is telling me what they have found appealing in my book, it turned out to be some minor thing that I considered unimportant at the time. They added a sense of realism for the reader that even videogames couldn’t provide. Simple things such as picking burrs out of socks after beating through the brush, the ache in the back after sitting for a prolonged period of time, or the pain and swelling of feet after a long hike.

The question is, how can we as authors provide those kinds of details to kids? The kind they can’t pick up in the game world. Sure, we can always fall back on research, but I propose a better solution. Experience!!! If we as authors challenge ourselves to try something new, we can use the knowledge and information we’ve gathered in our writing. It was always easy for me to write that my characters were tired after a trying ordeal, but after staggering across the finish-line of a half-marathon or a summersaulting over the finish mat of the Spudman triathlon, I truly knew what exhaustion meant. I now understand how muscles can turn to watery jello and how calves can burn as though you are actually standing in the midst of a fire. I now realize that fleeing from an enemy is more than simply pressing down on the b button for an unending sprint up and over the mountain to the safety of the plains on the other side.

After taking combat classes, I realize that close quarters combat is more than simply throwing a series of punches and blocks. It is all about position, speed, timing, breathing, conditioning, and everything else that can give you an advantage over an enemy. The experiences I gained there were something that made my combat scenes much more realistic and lent a sense of immediacy that had been lacking before.

Now, I am not proposing that we go out and experience everything that we plan to put our characters through. Is your character going to jail? DON’T GO AND GET ARRESTED! Sometimes we need to use our imaginations, and of course, we need to research. But sometimes, a dash of real life experience in an adventure might just be the secret ingredient in the mix to winning the fight for a child’s attention. Whether that battle might be to get our next book onto the bookshelf in the home, or simply to keep our current book in their hands five minutes after a mother calls out those sweet, magical words that nearly every kid longs to hear:

“You can play now!”

JR JR Simmons lives in Northern Utah with his wife and 4 boys. He loves spending time with his family and coaching his kids in all of their different sports. He is an avid gamer and is very excited that his boys are picking up on his hobby. JR was recently introduced to triathlons and has since found that he loves the sport. Most nights he can be found either sitting down with a good game or hunched over his iPad writing.

Targeting The Reluctant Reader

Dear Children’s Author,

Please write for the kid who would rather trim her toenails for the third time than open a book.  Please write books that are better than video games and snow days and pizza. Please write books that make you feel as good as when your brother admits that you will always be better than him at video games and snow days and pizza.

reluctant reader

A daunting request, but think about it: if you can hook reluctant readers, you’re pretty much guaranteed that the avid ones will be gaga over them. It’s kind of like broccoli.  Find a recipe to please the most finicky eater, and you’ve found your family’s new go-to dish.

I HATE reading

A reluctant reader is anyone who does not show a natural interest in reading.   This definition is very broad, encompassing children with learning disabilities and visual or psychomotor issues. But even when medical and development issues are absent, a child may still treat reading like a chore, and I would know.  Though we read equal numbers of books together, I have one child who did and one who did not experience an early love of reading. For the latter, just about any other activity brought her more pleasure, including staring at a television screen that I had turned off over an hour previously.

A Picture Leads to a Thousand Words

With my reluctant reader, the key to getting her into reading, the gateway drug, so to speak, of literature, was Graphic Novels.  The books she initially chose were glorified picture books – goofy, simple drawings with fewer than 20 words to a page – and even then I wasn’t entirely sure she was reading any of the words.  I did not care.  She was holding a book in her hands willingly. She was taking them to bed at night and then propping them up against the cereal box in the morning.  She was letting me know when it was time to go back to the library.  She even wanted to read parts to me. And whether or not I found them entertaining, I pretended to be enthralled.

Josie graphic novel faves

Slowly, over several years, she increased both her reading speed and her word to page ratio.  By the time she was paging backwards through manga graphic novels as thick as bricks, she was devouring them the way I polish off a bag of potato chips – I mean carrot sticks.  Today she is starting the third in the Fablehaven series.

After looking into the subject, I suspect the drawings in the graphic novels solved a problem many Reading Specialists identify among reluctant readers: connecting text to meaning.  Simply put, some children experience reading as an exercise in tracking words on a page, aka DRUDGERY. The drawings helped her to make the connection between the words and the story because, while she might get the general gist of the story just by looking at the pictures, bothering to read even a smattering of words made the pictures more alive.  The more she read, the more alive it became. Ta daaa!  Reading!

For many children this process happens during the traditional picture book years, but my child needed an extension.  She needed a way to be “held back” to picture book and early reader level without feeling punished or embarrassed by plots like “the puppy played in the mud and needed a bath.”  And though I’ve never personally been a fan of Graphic Novels, for giving my daughter this second chance, I have undying respect and gratitude toward the genre.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From The Library

But wait, you say: I don’t write Graphic Novels!  That’s okay, because pictures aren’t the only prerequisite to keeping my daughter reading.  As I peruse her library check-out history, there is an obvious second theme: humor.  Without something to tickle her funny bone, it doesn’t matter how thrilling a story is, my daughter will likely find it dull.

So as I write my Kibble Talk series, I work carefully on the humor. I’ll save a discussion of HOW to write funny for my next Emblazoner’s post, but it all pays off when you get reviews and comments like these from teachers and parents:

I think teachers might use this book with reluctant readers.”

And even better:

My daughter has some dyslexia and dislikes reading, but she has read Kibble Talk at least a dozen times.”

And best of all:

I bought this book for my 12 year old granddaughter who hasn’t read a book, other than what she had to at school, since she got her ipad at Christmas. All she ever wants to do is play games. But when she started reading Kibble Talk, she didn’t put it down until she finished it. Please keep writing, Cynthia, our kids need you.”

And THAT is the sort of review that keeps an author sitting at her keyboard even when her toenails could really use a third trimming.

Cynthia Port is the author of the ongoing Kibble Talk series, written for middle graders and the perpetually young at heart.Bio pic white background

KT CS cover 2014DG CS cover 2014 flat RBG

Tales of Compassion

Once again, I walked through the landfill graveyard in Tijuana, Mexico. (See previous post, A Giant Web in the Brain – The Science of Creativity.) This time it was a bright Saturday afternoon in November.

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While I hiked the irregular and rutted ground to admire the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) decorations, I witnessed an amazing act of spontaneous compassion coming from the children of the landfill. These children live in poverty that is truly unimaginable yet their hearts overflow with concern for less fortunate creatures.

It went down like this:

Twelve young children led by two 10-year-old girls, Fatima and Elly, played among the tombstones.

According to the girls, recounting the part of the story I hadn’t seen, a car speeding down the road struck and killed one of the stray dogs that roamed the landfill. The driver got out of his vehicle to make sure his car was okay, and as an afterthought, he tossed the dog into the graveyard.

Once he drove off, the children crowded around the poor dog, feeling pity for the animal. Upset by the man’s behavior, they tried to figure out what to do.

kids bringing the tools to bury the dog

Fatima and Elly took charge and led the younger kids across the road to a house where they borrowed a shovel and a garden spade.

They returned to the graveyard and set about finding a spot among the human graves to dig a final resting place for the “¡Pobre perrito!”

The ground was hard and they struggled. A volunteer from our medical team approached the children and offered to help dig the grave.

digging the grave

The kids handed her the shovel and a small grave was quickly dug in a shallow depression in the dirt near a bright blue tomb and bush full of berries.

Then the children took control again. They ran back to the dog’s body and carefully picked it up, carried it to the hole and gently placed it inside. They took turns covering it with dirt, then decorated the grave with boughs of berries, flowers and smooth stones arranged in the shape of a cross.

children holding their offerings for the grave

children decorating the grave children decorating the grave2 children decorating the grave3

 

 

 

 

 

After a few solemn moments at the gravesite, they eventually went back to playing, surrounded by all the colorful Day of the Dead tributes.

Children posing after the burial

I felt lucky to observe this simple act of compassion coming from these kids. As a dog owner, it was very moving to watch. These remarkable children had compassion far beyond their years and their circumstances. I told them so.

Have you ever seen young children show more concern than an adult? Why do some children show such compassion while others are bullies or brutal to their peers? Or to animals?

Empathy is the capacity to understand and appreciate the feelings of another and to use these feelings to guide one’s actions.

Learning compassion early in life certainly builds moral character, reduces bullying, and cultivates confidence. Teaching children compassion and respect for fellow human beings helps them become better adults and it also helps the less fortunate in their own communities.

Studies indicate there are several key experiences that actually teach kids compassion/empathy:

1) If they see compassion in action: Children learn by example. If they witness compassion in their lives, they absorb those qualities. Fatima and Elly were definitely teaching the younger children by their example.

2) If they actually live/practice compassion: Studies show that children who practice compassion at an early age will be more compassionate as teens and adults. This can include helping at a homeless shelter, donating to the needy, or burying an unfortunate animal. These twelve young kids took it upon themselves to be compassionate to an unfortunate dog.

3) If they read/hear stories of compassion: This is important for us as writers, teachers, and parents. Numerous studies show that reading literary fiction and/or other quality stories that demonstrate compassion greatly increases the reader’s empathy for others.

Compassion is a common character trait in good stories. Children that read these books or hear them read aloud are exposed to examples of human kindness that perhaps are missing in their regular lives.

Books can teach kids to be kind to one another, to animals, and to nature, all through the example found in a great story. This is one reason why fiction can be as important as non-fiction in a child’s education. It’s also why we need to think about our character’s traits when we write.

We should encourage those we know, teachers and parents and librarians, to obtain or read books that portray positive human qualities for the proven effect it has on young readers.

There are numerous books out there that convey a beautiful message about empathy or compassion in the storyline. It’s really hard to narrow down and pick a few classics to mention, but some of my favorites are:

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For the Very Young, but can be appreciated by all ages:

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

Angelo by David Macaulay

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry

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For Middle Grade and Tweens:

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

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Older Tweens and YA:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Wonder by R. J. Palacios

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

And many, many more…..

Have you witnessed spontaneous acts of compassion by young children? What are your favorite books that show compassion or empathy?

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Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and Legend of Monster Island is the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

Bringing in the New Year

January 1This is the time of year that many people set their resolutions for the upcoming year. A writer is no different. For the past few days, between celebrating Christmas with my family and visiting with friends, I have been working on my business plan for the new year along with working strategies. I’ve been sorting out what worked for this past year and how I can improve things for 2015. What I know about  me is that if I don’t mix rewards with work I become a bit lazy and procrastinate, almost to the point of endangering deadlines. So here are a list of rewards to keep me going.

  1.  Movie Popcorn! This is my favorite food on the planet. Of course it’s with butter! That means I have to limit the number of times I treat myself. So I’ll save it for larger accomplishments.
  2. Skyping with grandkids. This is reward is perfect for late afternoons after I’ve gotten a good amount of writing done. Knowing I’ll get to see the faces that I adore will encourage me to keep going.
  3. Playing board games with friends. This is so much fun! I love the challenge of the game and the social (chatting) with my friends.
  4. Red Curry from Toy’s Thai. This I will save for celebrations of completed manuscripts.
  5. Floating on the lake in my kayak. This one will be great for Spring. I love putting my boat on the water and watching the eagles soar above me. Watching them helps with ideas and the development of new stories.
  6. A cup of hot cranberry tea. This is a treat that keeps me pushing right on through. When I begin to slow  my pace and begin to get distracted by all that is around me, I can brew myself a nice hot cup of tea to help me maintain my focus. Cranberry is my favorite!
  7. Short bouts of exercise.  I know, I’m the last person to think of exercise as a reward, but it is. If I’ve been sitting at my computer for long periods of time, I begin to get cramps in my back, legs, and hips. Allowing myself to get up, run in place, and stretch is a most delicious treat.
  8. Massage Oh Yes! This one is for that completed project. You know, when you press that button that sends the template to print. This is what I’m looking forward to. I think I need to schedule one for February.

These are just a few of the rewards I have lined up for myself to ward off procrastination and laziness. Are you ever plagued by the great ‘P’? What are some of the things you do to keep the time-eater away?

 

All Good Plots Have Already Been Taken

A few years ago, someone told me that to write a completely original plot line was impossible because every basic story has already been told in the Bible. Take for instances Luke 2 where we find:

  • The story of an underdog
  • The story of good vs. evil
  • The story of hope

There are stories to entertain (like the ones I write), there are some stories to teach truth, and then there are stories that change the world. On this Christmas Eve, I want to pay tribute to one of the greatest stories ever told–the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Here are a few family pictures “Brown Christmas Style.”

bible story Brown Awkward